3rd February 2012: There's plenty at stake for New Zealand's leading track cyclists at the New Zealand track cycling championships in Invercargill this weekend.
The championships, starting at the Cycling Southland Velodrome on Saturday, form another important part of the season's programme ultimately leading to the London Olympics.
The BikeNZ selectors face a daunting task and some tough decisions as they finetune teams initially for this month's World Cup in London, April's world championships in Melbourne and finally the Olympics.
"There are some selections still to be made for the World Cup and, of course, long term we have to work around the IOC limitations on team numbers for London which is quite complex," said BikeNZ high performance director Mark Elliott.
"In between that is an important world championship in Melbourne in April - doubly important because it is very rare to have this event in the southern hemisphere.
"It will be an important litmus test for our Olympic preparations. Importantly, it has a full schedule of events including non-Olympic disciplines and is a gilt-edged opportunity for us to take a full squad of riders with an eye to the future.
That's something we've been unable to contemplate when the championships are in Europe.
"It is a world championship in its own right and, hopefully, it can spark not only really important success for our riders but also spark the sport, very much in the same way it did for rowing last year."
The key squad of sprinters will all be competing at the championships with a further chance for the women's pair of Natasha Hansen and Katie Schofield to impress for inclusion in the London World Cup as they keep alive their late bid for Olympic selection.
The men will resume their battles and hope to press their Olympic claims to include all four leading lights in Simon van Velthooven (Palmerston North), Eddie Dawkins (Invercargill), Sam Webster and Ethan Mitchell (both Auckland). Olympic restrictions on team numbers could see only three of the four highly-rated riders selected for London.
Some of the BikeNZ endurance squad riders won't be racing in Invercargill with Jesse Sergent having joined his RadioShack Nissan Trek team and world silver medallist omnium rider Shane Archbold is competing in Europe as a lead-in to the London World Cup.
Sergent's spot in the individual pursuit for the London World Cup is up for grabs - the individual pursuit is no longer on the Olympic programme - along with significant opportunities for riders to push claims for wider selection to the world championships and Olympics. The depth in the endurance group is significant, including Beijing Olympic medallist Westley Gough, fellow squad member Peter Latham and under-23 tyro Myron Simpson.
There will also be interest in the form of Southland's Tom Scully, recently re-signed to Chipolte First Solar, the under-23 development team of world tour team Garmin Barracuda. Scully has worked his way back from major career-threatening injuries after a crash during The RAS Tour of Ireland in 2010 which cost him a spot in the Delhi Commonwealth Games.
The favoured women's endurance trio of Alison Shanks, Lauren Ellis and Jaime Nielsen will be in camp but not competing and three members of the men's team's pursuit squad - Sam Bewley, Aaron Gate and Marc Ryan - will bypass the pursuit but compete in a range of other events.
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